Saturday, March 12, 2011

Reflections on the year: Three kinds of "action"

I hope one of the key things I have been able to convey in the past year is the importance of individual action (1, 2) and our obligation to act (1, 2). Many of the writings so far have tried to motivate us to be introspective about what we are a part of, and to understand that our actions have major implications for beings, sentient and non-sentient, all around the world. Having chosen to focus on trash was honestly a naïve decision in some sense, but as always, things generally happen for the best. I honestly didn't know what I was getting into when I decided to undertake this project, not because I didn't think I could do it, or it would be difficult, but rather because I had no idea of the various ways in which I would be able view the world, and ways in which I would act. Furthermore, the lens of trash has been easily relatable to other people - our experiences around trash are shared experiences. At the same time, a focus on trash is necessarily a focus on everything resulting in ecological degradation.


The other day, Professor Johnson and I were trying to distill the year down to a few take home messages that may be useful for other people to think about and implement. As a sociologist focusing on environmental issues, individual action and organisations, she has only words of wisdom to share. She said that in the efforts of the past year, she saw three kinds of "action" - refusal, inaction, and preparedness.

Refusal - There are two kinds of refusal. The first is refusal in the face of other people telling you to do something or offering you something. Examples may be refusing to drink beer from a bottle, or refusing to take that free t-shirt that comes along with opening a new bank account. More fundamentally, refusal speaks to a deeper want to not be a part of the ecologically degrading culture we live in. Refusal is of course more impactful than reduction, reuse, or recycling.

Inaction - Refusal leads directly to the conscious action of inaction. You can think of inaction as non-participation, or boycott, which I have written about previously (here, here, here, here). You can choose not to buy a new cellphone, for example.

Preparedness - Whereas inaction may be seen as a passive stance, preparedness is the action of thinking about what you may encounter, and taking conscious efforts to combat those potentially compromising positions. For example, if you carry around your own container, you can easily put any leftovers you may have in a restaurant into that container. Carrying around you own water bottle or thermos is another act of preparedness. (I have also talked about preparedness in some sense using the word vigilance.) As I have mentioned previously, once I am prepared, mentally and physically (with objects), producing no trash has been not difficult at all. At the same time, it is also easy to see that trash can be borne of preparedness. Many of us may think that we will need an afternoon snack, and will therefore pack a packaged granola bar. The difficult thing is to reconcile preparedness with what we choose to be prepared for, and with what. I can be prepared for the afternoon hunger pang, but with something other than a packaged granola bar. It is not difficult, but there is always room for improvement and a heightened preparedness. In a world of now, it is important for us to consider the future.

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